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Sunday, Jun 26, 2022

“A little bit of normalcy”: Dining moves away from to-go, but understaffing persists

The beginning of the spring semester brought a return to seemingly “normal” dining operations, with staff shifting schedules and dining hall procedures to fully accommodate indoor dining, regular Grille hours and the impending opening of the food truck. 

“We’re trying to get a little bit of normalcy here,” said Dan Detora, executive director of food service operations. 

Detora said that the decision to open the semester with in-person dining was ultimately up to health professionals. Testing, along with many students remaining on campus between J-Term and spring semester, made it unnecessary to enforce to-go dining. He acknowledged that grab-and-go was an inconvenience, especially to students who live far away from the dining halls. 

“It’s been two years of meetings and craziness,” Detora said. 

The team has dealt with feeding students in isolation, moving several times between grab-and-go, indoor dining and food delivery during room quarantine periods and more. 

Detora said that throughout the past two years, it has largely been a collaborative effort between health professionals, the Covid-19 Response Team, senior leadership and dining staff. 

“We’ve had more meetings and stuff about what’s going on so we’re more informed,” said Jesse Durant, a dishwasher in Proctor Dining Hall. “The head of dining, Dan Detora, gets us all together during the day once a month and tells us what’s going on. That’s been very helpful.” 

Catering Manager Megyn Pitner led the delivery of meals to students in isolation due to the absence of catered events on campus during the pandemic. The food comes from Atwater during the week and the Grille on the weekends. 

Pitner and her team are still delivering meals to students who have been moved into isolation housing. But beginning last night, Covid-positive students in in-room isolation are allowed to leave to get food to-go from Proctor at 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. The change is due to the large number of positive cases on campus. A separate food pick-up area has been designated in the dining hall for students picking up meals at 10:30 a.m., which falls during Proctor’s open hours for all students.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many members of the dining staff shifted from working in the dining halls to cleaning dorms and doing other work for facilities. By August 2020, the staff were back in their roles in dining.

Dining has also returned to the carabiner system — where students must exchange a carabiner to get a plastic to-go box — as the to-go option after suspending it during the pandemic. 

“We tried to give the students the benefit of the doubt and not use the carabiner system, and that did not work at all, and we lost anywhere from 3,000–5,000 containers,” said Detora. 

Like many other departments at the college, the dining staff have experienced the effects of understaffing. Durant said that although his normal hours are 12:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., many nights are a lot longer because there is so much to do and so few staff. 

The Grille has also transitioned back to a payment system for the spring semester. During J-term, the Grille still offered a limited-option lunch plan as part of the regular meal plan.

Now that there are no longer students living at Bread Loaf, the full-time chef Jen Stratman is back to her normal role at the Grille and will return to her role in the food truck when it opens in the spring. 

Detora noted that dining services has continued to serve food to students throughout the shifts in modality and scheduling necessitated by the pandemic. 

“Dining is a big part of what students experience on this campus, and so we’ve had to be in these meetings pretty much every step of the way,” he said.

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